As we walked up the steep footpath to the top of the hill (part of the South Downs range), there was a growing bundle of anxiety in my chest. This holiday was supposed to have been relaxing, restorative — a chance to let go of the stresses of the previous few months.
But for one reason or another (I won’t bore you with them, they were mundane enough), it wasn’t working out that way. On top of that, I was getting a bout of what I have come to realise is eco-grief. I’ve had it for a while, that sense of despair and helplessness in the face of the terrifying, accelerating loss of plant and animal life. It hits me most strongly in late winter/early spring, as I fear that the birds will never start singing and it will indeed be a Silent Spring. I know, of course, that birds are only a tiny part of the loss of diversity, but they are dearest to me and I see them as harbingers or heralds of sorts.
So as we sat on the top of the hill, eating the sandwiches we had brought as a picnic, the silence and lack of bird song seemed eerie and oppressive. My feelings of loss and sorrow deepened.
Just at that very moment, a skylark exploded out of the grass, not five metres in front of us, rocketing into the blue sky and filling it with his song. Seconds later, a male on a neighbouring territory joined him, followed by a third bird. As usual, I lost sight of them quickly, but their songs still reached us.
People often say, “my heart leapt” in a metaphorical way, but I felt as if mine actually did. It sprang up from the earth like a leaping deer, longing to join the spiralling skylarks above. For good measure, I burst into tears — joyful ones. One — or even three — singing skylarks do not negate a diversity crisis, but it helped me in that moment and made me let go of some of the tension I had been holding on to. As I dried my tears I said (out loud) “You ridiculous creature!”, meaning myself. The skylark is a marvel.